There’s something that’s even more depressing than the dizzying number of emails clogging up my inbox after the Christmas break, and that’s the subject lines that a considerable number of these unread messages bear.
Nestled among press releases hailing the best-performing stocks of 2017, research reports on the supposed bitcoin bubble, and a painful number of Valentine’s Day-themed adverts (yes, already) are a shocking number of studies claiming to prove just how unhappy we all are in our jobs.
One subject line introduces research alleging that one in 10 people have imagined killing their boss at work. Extreme, you understandably might think, but there are numerous others that speak to the same idea – albeit in a less morbid fashion.
In fact, multiple studies festering in my inbox when I checked in on New Year’s Day informed me that around half of the country’s workforce will look for a new role in 2018. Anecdotal evidence that I’ve come across seems to support these figures. Just three days into the New Year, two individuals I know have already used 2018 to throw in the towel. Years back, I quit my very first job on 2 January after a pained few days of shall-I-shan’t-I that ended with my mother telling me to “get a grip”.
Perhaps that vigorous mix of food coma, three-day hangover and not knowing exactly what day of the week it is really is conducive to setting life-changing plans in stone. Apparently divorce rate spikes at the start of January too.
But why do we actually hate our jobs so much?
Well for a start, there’s the money factor. If we keep being reminded that inflation is at a multi-year high and that wage growth is stubbornly stagnant, then we’ll inevitably be hyper-conscious of our own personal financial positions. We’ll be more aware of just how cash-strapped we might be, and while we logically know that others – especially across our own industry – are probably in the same boat, the possibility of greener pastures is enough to lure many of us.
I’m certainly guilty of moving jobs based on the prospect – or hope – of better hours, pay, satisfaction and a chance to really hit peak fulfilment, only to find 10 weeks into the new role that very little has actually changed.
One of the surveys that schadenfreudishly greeted me upon my post-Christmas return to work was by human resource company Investors in People. It found that, beyond bucks, poor management is also a major reason workers cite for wanting to move jobs.
And this is where the ears of employers – especially those who say that they can’t stump up the capital for pay rises – should prick up.
I fondly remember one of the first business management classes I ever took at school. My subject choice was admittedly driven by the fact that I didn’t want to take art or some esoteric-sounding subject called World Politics, but against all odds, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the beautiful logic of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory. And Mr Graham will be proud to know that I still take pleasure in educating people about the Hawthorne Effect.
The latter, written about in the 1950s by a fellow called Henry Landsberger, strives to demonstrate that the performance and motivation of workers is influenced by their surroundings and the conditions in which they operate – and not necessarily just cold, hard cash.
Experiments were conducted, under the supervision of a psychologist called Elton Mayo, at a Western Electric factory in a place called Hawthorne, Chicago. Almost by accident, Mayo and his colleagues found that the productivity of groups of workers dramatically improved when they felt like they were being paid attention to. That impression was given to workers by changing small things about their environment: the level of lighting, for example, or the timing of shifts.
It emerged that it wasn’t the actual change in the conditions that made the difference, but the fact that someone had cared enough about the workers to bother implementing change at all.
I’m sure there are flaws to this theory, and I doubt that altering the level of lighting in your average office in Slough will markedly improve the number of documents Joe Bloggs manages to file before his 11am smoking break, but we can definitely learn a lesson here.
There are ways of making people happy without money. We live in a tough economic world. There’s famously no such thing as a free lunch – but as a boss, human conversation once in a while doesn’t cost the earth, and neither does being flexible and accommodating.
In the meritocracies to which we’ve become accustomed, promotions are often seen as the most obvious incentive for keeping workers happy, but perhaps we’ve lost touch with what really matters.
There are ways of showing appreciation that don’t come in wallets and bank accounts – a simple email, note or phone call can go a long way. Humans are naturally vain. It’s easy and effective to bolster someone’s ego.
And training appears to be another commonly untapped source of motivation.
Several of the surveys I mention found that employees are bemoaning the lack of training opportunities. Training can make you feel like you’re being invested in, and what greater endorsement is there than that?
If you’re at the point of hating everything about your job – that ghoulish smell in the loos, the grumpy security guard, the cement-like porridge in the canteen and your colleague who laughs like a hyena at inappropriate moments – I realise there may be nothing your boss can do to change your mind.
But for everyone else, there may indeed be a solution. After all, you must admit that thoughts of murder are perhaps a little extreme.